During each of the last two recruiting seasons, ACU head football coach Ken Collums has preached the need to get bigger and create more depth and competition up and down his roster.
The Wildcats did that with their 2013 recruiting class, but they went even further with it with the 2014 recruiting classic, which was announced Wednesday, the first day high school players can sign binding letters of national intent with the college of their choice. Twenty-six high school players and three transfers chose to cast their lot with the Wildcats, and it could be on the most impressive physically and academically gifted classes in recent ACU history.
Collums and his staff signed 16 defensive players and 10 offensive players from the high school ranks and took one transfer from the defensive side of the ball and two more from the offensive side.
But up and down the signing list is size and speed from the 6-3, 310-pound defensive tackle to the 6-2, 225 outside linebacker who can cover sideline-to-sideline to the 6-2, 290-pound road grader on the offensive line to the 6-0, 195-pound safety who isn't afraid to put a helmet on someone.
"Going into this recruiting season, we wanted to try and get a player at each position to create depth," Collums said. "The only position we didn't take was at quarterback, but we're in pretty good shape there. The most obvious thing we had to do was to create depth. Playing in the league we're in now (Southland Conference) is brutal. It's like being in a car wreck 11 or 12 straight weeks, having to recover and going out and doing it all over again. You'd better be prepared to plug quality guys into the lineup or you're just going to get killed."
As the 2013 season went along, it became more and more apparent that the Wildcats had to shore up their defensive line, especially in the middle. And that's where the coaching staff directed a large part of its focus, nabbing four defensive tackles and three defensive ends. The defensive tackles are led by LaMarcus Allen, a 6-1, 300-pounder from Prosper, while pass-rushing specialist Anthony Davis (6-3, 240) from Dallas Madison is the headliner at defensive end. Also, transfer William Moore from Houston (the younger brother of former Wildcat defensive lineman Donald Moore) will play a big role for the Wildcats in 2014.
The Wildcats also signed defensive tackles Trent Andrews (6-1, 275) from Bosqueville, Travaughn Moore (6-3,3 10) from John Tyler and Eddie Ngungutau (6-2, 320) from Euless Trinity. And at end, to go along with Davis, they signed Devondric Meadows (6-4, 275) from Lubbock Coronado and A.J. Tolbert (6-0, 235) from Southlake Carroll. Tolbert is the son of former Dallas Cowboys defensive end, Tony Tolbert.
"We feel good about our big people on both sides of the ball, and that's our No. 1 thing right now," Collums said. "We've already learned that you'd better have big people that can play and you'd better have a lot of them. We're getting closer to where we need to be with our depth at defensive tackle, defensive end and on the offensive line."
ACU signed a very talented group of linebackers, perhaps the best group of players at one position in the class. Bryson Gates of Fairfield, Gavin Burford of Lewisville Hebron, Dylan Douglass of Canyon, Myles Solberry of Plano and Sam Denmark – the top-rated linebacker in New Mexico out of Las Cruces High School – could all be impact players on the Wildcats' defense.
The secondary is led by safeties Rashaad Burton (Mansfield Timberview) and Damian Howard (Broken Arrow, Okla.) and cornerbacks Jamar Mack (Dallas Roosevelt) and Terry Ausborne (Tyler John Tyler).
Collums said there was no formula for how the Wildcats went about their recruiting process, at least in terms of numbers of players they would take at each position. That's why one year after signing five high school offensive linemen, the Wildcats added five
more on Wednesday. Kris Thigpen from Arlington Bowie (6-2, 290) was a three-year starter for the Volunteers and leads another group of talented offensive linemen to join the Wildcats.
The other offensive linemen joining the Wildcats are Cole Baughman (6-5, 275) from Cedar Park, Colton King (6-6, 290, Richardson Pearce), Brady Melde (6-3, 275) from New Braunfels Canyon, and Moe Ngungutau (6-2, 310) from Euless Trinity. They also added transfer offensive lineman Parker Whitney from Butler Community College at the semester break.
ACU also signed two dual-threat quarterbacks from opposite ends of the spectrum in 6-5, 240-pound Cody Ennis of San Antonio Madison and 6-0, 190-pound Dallas Sealey from Lawton, Okla. Both can make plays with both their arms and their feet, which is something Collums said the Wildcats will be looking in from their quarterbacks for the foreseeable future.
"We won't every play here at ACU without a guy who can throw it," Collums said. "But we learned with the way we used John David (Baker) last year that having a guy that can move around and use his head and his feet as much as his arm, and both of these guys can do that for us."
Receiver was also a position of need after ACU lost three of its all-time greats in Taylor Gabriel, Darrell Cantu-Harkless and Darian Hogg. The Wildcats signed playmaker Marcus Ellis from Melissa and Chris Lide from Fairfield and added transfer Larry McDuffey from Houston.
In all, 29 players (26 high school players and three transfers) chose to join a Wildcat program that in 2014 will begin its second season at the NCAA Division I FCS level and will play a full Southland Conference schedule for the first time since the 1972 season. The players that signed Wednesday also represent the first signing class that could play in the FCS national playoffs when ACU becomes post-season eligible in 2017.
And, Collums said, this class helped the Wildcat program take a huge step toward achieving the goal of a Southland Conference title and FCS playoff appearance in short order.
"What this class proves to me is that we will be able to compete at the highest level when we're ready," he said. "We competed and fought with and beat some of the best teams in our league for a lot of these players. We lost some of those fights, too, but we won a lot more. In recruiting it's not about signing somebody, but rather signing the right ones. The right hearts are here and that makes all the difference."
ABILENE CHRISTIAN UNIVERSITY
2014 NATIONAL SIGNING DAY LIST
Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Hometown (School)
LaMarcus Allen DT 6-1 300 Prosper, Texas (Prosper HS)
Trent Andrews DT 6-1 275 Waco, Texas (Bosqueville HS)
Terry Ausborne CB 5-11 175 Tyler, Texas (John Tyler HS)
Cole Baughman OL 6-5 275 Cedar Park, Texas (Cedar Park HS)